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Mental Health: Beyond the UK headlines

Mental health has received a great deal of coverage in the UK news lately and in this blog we reflect on trends emerging in the sector. 

Oliver Carrington is a consultant at NPC, a charity think tank and consultancy that works with both funders and charities to improve the sector. Oliver advises the mental health portfolio for the Stone Family Foundation.

Mental health, an issue that the Stone Family Foundation has invested over £3.5m in since 2008, has received a great deal of coverage in the UK news lately. As NPC’s adviser to the Stone Family Foundation’s mental health portfolio, here is my take on the recent trends in the sector.

Policies, promises, and reasons to be positive

In the UK, much of the recent attention has been about a crisis in mental health and government pledges to address it. Following the former Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise of a ‘mental health revolution’, current Prime Minister Theresa May recently identified tackling stigma as a key part of her vision for a ‘shared society’.

Although rising mental health problems are often repackaged as a crisis that has only just been discovered, charities have continually warned the government of the effect of new policies and cuts on the public’s well-being. Nevertheless, this new focus is undeniably something to be optimistic about. Charities have helped get mental health on the agenda through persistent campaigning and by engaging with policy, in particular the ambitious Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. This collection of recommendations was published last year by the Mental Health Taskforce—led by Mind’s CEO and comprised of several charities (including Rethink), professional bodies and experts. They were formally accepted by the government last month.

Tough times haven’t gone away…

Despite this progress, the promises flying around are yet to match reality. Of course there’s the wider picture of an NHS in deep water and frontline services decimated after years of painful cuts to the sector. But to add to that, most mental health charities are reliant on statutory funding and this is increasingly becoming harder to access.

Of the promised five year government investment of £1.4bn in young people’s mental health, only £75m was distributed to clinical commissioning groups in 2015/2016. This £1.25bn hasn’t been ring-fenced and some frontline providers report that this investment is yet to reach them.

Developing early intervention and preventative solutions are crucial if the sector wants to tackle the problems head on, but with little evidence that this saves money, the state is often reluctant to invest. Here, private funders can add considerable value by stepping in to support charities working in this space and helping them measure their impact.

…but awareness is on the rise

It is worth celebrating how public awareness of mental health is growing in leaps and bounds. Again, charities are making a real difference here. The success of the well-evaluated Time to Change initiative to the high profile Heads Together campaign—which is backed by the Royals and is the official partner of this year’s London Marathon—are just two examples. Charities can capitalise on this change in order to secure new sources of funding and to help make their services more accessible.

The mental health crisis shows no signs of going away. Charities must continue to play a leading role in holding the government to account and keeping mental health on the agenda.

A version of this blog originally appeared on NPC’s website on 22 February 2017.